Drought conditions in northwestern Minnesota have created extremely low water conditions in many shallow lakes and wetland basins that are popular for waterfowl hunting, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource (DNR). Despite these conditions, duck hunters can expect good numbers of ducks, especially in the northwest region where lower water conditions have created an excellent wild rice crop, which is good forage for ducks.
“Duck numbers are very good right now and duck hunters can have great success during dry years such as this,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl research specialist. “Dabbling ducks prefer shallow water, seek out areas where rice exists and may stick around longer than usual.”
Duck hunters in the northwest region may find conditions much different than they have been in recent years. Some seasonal basins are completely dry and other, more permanent basins are 1.5 feet or more below normal levels for this time of year.
Periodic droughts are natural occurrences for wetlands. Some wetlands will also be low or dry this fall due to intentional drawdowns by the DNR, which are intended to improve wetland health and attract waterfowl.
Periods of low water encourage vegetation growth important for food and protective cover for waterfowl and other species of wildlife. They also induce winter-kill that helps eliminate certain rough fish such as carp, black bullheads and fathead minnows. High populations of these fish can contribute to poor water clarity that inhibits beneficial vegetative growth.
“These wet and dry cycles are a natural part of wetland health and in the long-term, encourage waterfowl use,” said Tom Carlson, northwest region waterfowl habitat specialist. “They can, however, make access a challenge in the interim.”
DNR expects that significant rainfall will be needed between now and the regular waterfowl season opener to measurably improve access in many areas. Hunters should plan accordingly and visit areas they wish to hunt prior to opening weekend.
“Hunters simply need to take into account the drier conditions, do some scouting and not be surprised on opening morning if conditions on their favorite lake are significantly different from past years,” said Cordts.
Find an area wildlife office at www.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/index.html to get more information about local conditions.
The following are descriptions of northwest regions by county of the key waterfowl areas that may be difficult to access.
Thief Lake – Lake is currently 20 inches below target and water is well away from all of the boat launches. Hunters may not drive trucks into the basin of the wetland, but are allowed to hand-back trailers to the water’s edge at the Maanum’s boat launch. Access will be difficult with a boat and motor. Best access may be via canoe or small boat that can be carried to the water’s edge. The Moose River access has sufficient water for boats, but the delta where the river enters the lake is very shallow and overgrown with vegetation.
Nereson WMA – The south impoundment at Nereson is in drawdown, and currently water is only found in the borrow ditch. The north pool is still holding water, but is one foot below normal for this time of year. Access to this impoundment’s backwaters may be difficult.
Roseau Lake – Roseau Lake is completely dry.
Roseau River WMA – All pools are 6-10 inches below normal. Access via boat and outboard motor will be possible in most of the huntable area of the pools, but travel will be slowed by the shallow water conditions. The Roseau River is very low; navigation with boat and motor will be difficult throughout its reaches. The best watercraft for the main channel would be a canoe with paddles, no outboard.
Grant and Douglas counties
Lake Christina – Due to a current water level management project being conducted to increase submerged aquatic plants, using electric water pumps, Lake Christina is about two feet lower than its normal water level. Mud flats extend a few hundred feet out from the public access. Dragging or poling a boat out to the water’s edge will be extremely difficult.
Western Becker, Norman and Mahnomen counties
Water levels in temporary and seasonal wetlands and area lakes, rivers and streams are very low. Many of the temporary and seasonal wetlands in these areas are extremely low to dry. However, the wild rice crop is good to excellent throughout the northwest. Waterfowl hunters that focus their hunting efforts in locations where good stands of wild rice are located will enjoy success.
Eastern Becker, Southern Hubbard, Wadena and Cass counties
Temporary and seasonal wetlands are extremely low to dry. Cass County is the exception due to June rain showers. Some lakes, rivers and streams are low, but should not cause access issues. Drier conditions have contributed to a very robust wild rice crop throughout most of these areas and early season migrants such as blue-winged teal and wood ducks are starting to congregate in these areas to ake advantage of the abundant food opportunities.
Hovland and Kroening WMAs – both are currently dry. Significant precipitation will still be needed to bring most marsh levels up to “average.”
Big Stone County
Steen Wildlife Management Area (WMA) – drawdown, completely dry.
Blue Earth County
Gilfillan Lake on Gilfillan WMA.
Minnesota Lake, Rice Lake.
Manchester Marsh WMA – lots of mud flat.
Upper and Lower Twin lakes – Ann and Leo Donahue WMA, Upper Twin WMA and Twin lakes. WPA – Upper Twin is mostly mud flat, Lower Twin as a little water, but not enough to float most boats for some distance out.
Bear Lake (and WMA) – public access is dry, but the lake still has some water.
Magaksica WMA – Mud Lake is mostly mud.
Carex WMA – dry.
Panicum Prairie – dry except the ditches.
Heron Lake – mudflats between vegetation, but water around most of the main lakes.
Anderson Lake (Anderson Lake WMA), Rost WMA – in drawdown.
Welsand’s Slough (Coon Creek WMA) – in drawdown.
Lac Qui Parle County
Hamlin WMA (Cory Lake), Haydenville WMA – in drawdown, dry.
Fritsche Creek WMA.
Moonan Marsh WMA – dry.
Buffalo Lake – public access is dry, but the lake still has some water.
Teal Marsh WMA – mostly mud flat.
Goose Lake – state access is mud, but the lake has water.
Yellow Medicine County
Curtis Lake – in drawdown.